Valencia v Paris St Germain - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

Offshore Drilling, UEFA Champions League: Paris Saint-Germain 2, at Valencia 1

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It’s rare that you see the word “escaped” applied to a 2-1 road victory, but by the end of Paris Saint-Garmain’s Tuesday trip to Valencia’s Mestalla, the Parisians would be right to feel like the final whistle cam at just the right moment. A late Adil Rami goal had halved their lead before a stunning late red card for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. PSG were left to see out the match’s final moments packed into their own end before being awarded a valuable road victory, 2-1.

The win was the result of two isolated moments in a match that was otherwise controlled by Los Che. In the 10th minute, a one-two between Ezequiel Lavezzi and fellow Argentine Javier Pastore allowed the duo to crack the left side of Valencia’s defense, putting the Parisians up 1-0. Just before halftime, Pastore’s quick shot off a Lucas Moura cross beat Vicente Guaita between the legs, the goalkeeper’s left foot the last touch on what would prove the game-winning goal.

That early edge, along with stalwart defensive play from PSG’s midfield, allowed the visitors to give Valencia control of the game, something that nearly proved fruitless. Then a late foul from substitute Sylvain Armand allowed Tino Costa to drop a 90th minute restart behind the Parisian line. An unmarked Adil Rami gave Valencia their hope-restoring goal.

But the story coming out of today’s match will the Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s red card. After a good if unspectacular game, Ibrahimovic was dismissed after a stoppage time challenge on Andres Guardado saw the Swede go over the top of the ball and stomp on his opponent’s right foot. He’ll miss the return leg in Paris.

(MORE OFFSHORE: Juventus three up on Celtic.)

Man of the Match: PSG’s defensive effort was the difference in this match, and that effort was led by midfielder Blaise Matuidi, one of the team’s two best players this season. Because he exists in a world defined by Ibrahimovic, the French international doesn’t get the attention he deserves, but on Tuesday people saw why the 25-year-old has become crucial to his team’s success.

At the tip if a defense tasked with disrupting a team that held 65 percent of the game’s possession, Matuidi had a game-high five interceptions. His presence in the middle (along with Marco Veratti’s) helped take Ever Banega out of the match, while his forays forward to put pressure on Costa contributed to some of the Argentine’s early struggles.

Threesome of Knowledge: What We Learned

PSG is ready to compete for Champions League – Nobody’s going to confuse Valencia for title contenders, but getting results on the road in Champions League — particularly at this point in the competition — is difficult. Some teams don’t even try to win road matches, content to take stalemates into their home legs.

Not so for PSG. They scored early, took advantage of a breakdown before halftime, and despite a late wobble, took a win and two away goals out of Spain. In the process, they dispelled the notion that the group’s lack of Champions League experience would be a hinderance.

Sure, the team has individuals who’ve played in Champions League. Ibrahimovic is in this competition every year, and Thiago Silva came from Milan. But as a collective, this team has never tried to navigate these waters before.

One year after Borussia Dortmund, Lille, and Manchester City fell flat in Champions League, it was reasonable to ask whether PSG’s uptake would be as slow. Now, we can disregard that notion.

Ancelotti’s got his midfield working – Matuidi wasn’t the only PSG midfielder putting forth an effort. Marco Veratti has come a long way since the beginning of the season, his game-high seven tackles showing he no longer needs to be protected in the middle. Out wide, Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore — two players known for their work in other facets of the game — proved they can fulfill wide midfielders’ responsibilities in a 4-4-2.

Six months ago, none of those names projected as players who could provide this kind of defensive. A team with Valencia’s skill would have exploited them. But Carlo Ancelotti brought something new out of the trio. As a result, PSG looks a good bet to go through.

Tino Costa as a metaphor for the match – In the first half, when the game was in doubt, Valencia couldn’t take advantage of the possession they were given. They couldn’t even mount any meaningful chances on Salvatore Sirigu. PSG looked set to deflect Valencia’s attacks through full time and take a cleansheet back to Paris.

A big part of that was Tino Costa. The Valencia regista was off early on, spraying balls across the field that were more speculative than surgical. His short passing was being disrupted by Matuidi. Costa was not only undermining Valencia attacks, he was giving PSG opportunities to counter.

As Costa came into the match, Valencia became more effective. Near the 30 minute-mark, when the Argentine started improving, Valencia was finally able to threaten down the flanks. As Valencia drew more fouls, they were able to bring Costa’s dead ball service into play, service which eventually let to Los Che’s only goal.

With midfield partner Daniel Parejo a non-factor through most of the day’s match, Valencia’s output ended up reflecting what Costa was able to accomplish. When Costa came on late, his team was able to score. But until that point, they couldn’t crack PSG’s defense.

Packaged for takeaway

  • We’ll try to post Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s controversial tackle later. Suffice to say, not all of you will agree with Paolo Tagliabento’s decision.
  • (MORE: Did Ibrahimovic deserve his red card?)

  • Valencia originally set up in a 4-2-3-1 but switched at halftime, going to a 4-4-2 when Nelson Valdez and Sergio Canales came on for Banega and Jonas. The change had little effect.
  • PSG became the first French team to beat Valencia since 1980.
  • Thiagos Silva and Motta both missed today’s match, though it’s unclear how much either would have mattered. PSG’s defense was pretty well shielded, while Motta’s unlikely to have performed better than either starting central midfielder.
  • Mexican international Andres Guardado got another start at left back for Valencia, a position that’s become more common for him as his team has battled fitness concerns over the last month. It would be scary if Mexico started using the veteran in this role, a switch that would allow Chepo de la Torre to get yet another attacking threat on the field.

     

  • Last summer he was one of the best right backs at Euro 2012, but each time you watch Joao Perriera you’re reminded: The Portuguese international is a truly under-appreciated player. Because he lacks the athleticism we’ve come to look for in fullbacks, he doesn’t get brought up in many “Best of” conversations. Yet as he showed on Tuesday, there’s nothing he can’t do well.
  • Had his ninth minute shot gone in, Lucas Moura would have been clear Man of the Match. That early blast from well outside the box only rattled Vicente Guaita’s goal, but it was enough to elicit some gasps from the Valencia crowd. His work just before halftime also created Pastore’s goal.
  • No, David Beckham didn’t play.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]

For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]